Almost 80 percent of the world’s almond processing happens in California. The nuts are the state’s top agricultural export and the largest tree nut crop in total dollar value and acreage. They also rank as the largest U.S. specialty crop export, according to the Almond Board of California.
To meet this demand, California Gold Almonds’ (CGA) operational procedures and equipment for harvesting and handling must meet food safety guidelines.
In addition to conforming to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) standards, CGA must follow British Retail Consortium (BRC) regulations because it exports almost half of its total volume to Europe, where almonds have always been a food mainstay. Overall, CGA sends 70 percent of its crop internationally.
Electromagnetic feeders, metal separators, and Rare Earth (RE) plate and tube magnets that process the nuts are instrumental to ensuring the quality of the almonds, but the process starts with trees.
From seed to roast
CGA manages control from tree to package. The almonds are primarily grown on farms that the company owns and operates in the heart of almond country.
At the start of the cycle, the company’s 35 employees collaborate with neighboring farmers, whose almonds meet CGA’s standards for quality and freshness. Almonds grow from tree varieties developed using natural breeding, meaning the almonds are not genetically modified (non-GMO). CGA pumps water supplied by the Sierra Mountains from its wells, some of which are powered by solar panels. It rents honeybees to pollinate the almond orchards.
After the almonds are harvested, its food-grade facilities use equipment to shell, sort, pasteurize, roast, dice, slice, mill and pack the nuts to produce high standard confectionery grade almonds. Technology on the shop floor includes optical and infrared sorting, low-moisture pasteurization and constant-vibration roasting.
Processing plants at work
To ensure product purity, a series of Eriez 66C and 46C electromagnetic feeders, Model FF metal separators and a variety of RE plate and tube magnets process the nuts. The equipment is installed at both the company’s Tenaya and El Roya processing plants in Modesto, California, part of the San Joaquin Valley.
“The equipment puts us a cut above in the almond industry, and it gives us a competitive advantage from a technological standpoint,” said Mick Tobin, CGA general manager. “It allows us to build more efficient processing lines, while reducing human touching and handling of the almonds.”
The facilities are a quarter mile from each other, but they serve different customer bases, according to Tobin. The 35,000-square-foot Tenaya facility, built about three years ago, processes almonds for domestic customers while the larger, 84,000-square-foot one in El Roya built two years ago satisfies the company’s export business. The millions of pounds of almonds they process annually serve customers including yogurt and ice cream shops, chocolatiers, bakeries, gluten-free baking mix makers, and industrial giants.
The Tenaya facility is designed for confectionary-grade almond processing at the retail level, Tobin said. Here, the incoming raw almonds fall freely through a series of Eriez Model FF metal separators, which are designed to detect all magnetic and non-magnetic metal contamination, even when embedded in the product. Metal contaminants are then rejected through the “quick flap” reject unit.
Next, the 66C and 46C Hi-Vi electromagnetic feeders properly convey the precise amount of raw almonds, approximately 12,000 pounds per hour, which eventually pass through an optical sorting line and into the packaging process.
The feeders feature a totally enclosed patented magnetic drive and can feed practically any bulk material from micron size to bulky chunks. Standard units operate at temperatures up to 130°F while high-temperature units are available for temperatures up to 300°F.
“We have the feeders and metal separators in strategic locations to help us monitor contamination and maintain accurate feed rates,” Tobin said. “The equipment gives me a lot of confidence for precise operation, especially when we also have our optical sorting, hand sorting and dicing, slicing, and packing going on.”
At the El Roya plant, two Model FF metal separators and several RE plate and tube magnets help detect and remove contamination from almonds destined for exporting to a European customer base. The equipment is installed on a main processing line conveying 20,000 pounds of almonds per hour and a secondary line conveying 15,000 pounds per hour.
Plate magnets installed in chutes, spouts, ducts and pipes or suspended over conveyors remove tramp iron to prevent costly shutdowns associated with machinery damage. Tube magnets are used as a quality control check of dry bulk materials where a powerful, portable magnetic power source is needed.
Almonds done right
Processing equipment is key to producing California’s top agricultural export at the highest quality possible.
“I like the consistency of the feed rates on our main conveyor lines at both facilities,” Tobin said. “The metal detectors are a key component of our Critical Control Point, especially when we are audited by the FDA for food quality standards.”
John Klingeis is the marketing manager-sanitary for Eriez. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science, business and military science from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s degree in business administration from Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. He may be reached at email@example.com. For more information on Eriez, call 888-300-ERIEZ (3743) within the U.S. and Canada or email firstname.lastname@example.org.